The Evolution of Drive-Thru



Drive-thru is a quick service restaurant (QSR) concept that has been popular in the US since the 1950s. It allows customers to order and receive their meals from the comfort of their own cars, making it an efficient and convenient option for those on the go. However, the evolution of drive-thru has not been a linear one, as it has undergone numerous changes and improvements over the years. In this blog post, we will explore the history of drive-thru and its various advancements.

The Origins of Drive-Thru

The first drive-thru restaurant is believed to be the Red’s Giant Hamburg in Springfield, Missouri, which opened in 1947. Its owner, Sheldon “Red” Chaney, wanted to cater to the growing number of motorists on Route 66, and so he designed a restaurant where customers could order and receive their food without ever leaving their cars. Red’s Giant Hamburg was a huge success, and soon other QSRs followed suit.

The Rise of Intercom Systems

In the early days of drive-thru, customers would drive up to a window and place their orders directly with the restaurant staff. This process was time-consuming and often resulted in long lines. In the 1960s, QSRs began using intercom systems, which allowed customers to place their orders through a speaker and microphone. This innovation not only made the ordering process faster, but it also improved accuracy and reduced the risk of miscommunication.

The Introduction of Drive-Thru Timers

As drive-thru became more popular, QSRs began to realize the importance of speed and efficiency. To improve their drive-thru operations, they introduced drive-thru timers, which monitored the time it took for a customer to place an order, receive their food, and exit the drive-thru lane. This data allowed QSRs to identify bottlenecks and make changes to improve their speed of service.

The Emergence of Dual-Lane Drive-Thru

As drive-thru continued to grow in popularity, QSRs began to experiment with dual-lane drive-thru. This innovation allowed two lines of cars to order simultaneously, which improved throughput and reduced wait times. Dual-lane drive-thru became particularly popular in the 1990s, and many QSRs still use this configuration today.

The Advancement of Digital Menu Boards

In the early days of drive-thru, QSRs used static menu boards that displayed a limited amount of information. In the 2000s, they began to adopt digital menu boards, which allowed them to display more information and update their menus quickly and easily. Digital menu boards also enabled QSRs to customize their menus based on time of day, weather conditions, and other factors.

The Integration of Mobile Ordering

With the rise of smartphones and mobile apps, QSRs began to explore the integration of mobile ordering into their drive-thru operations. This innovation allowed customers to place their orders and pay through their phones, eliminating the need for them to interact with restaurant staff. Mobile ordering also allowed QSRs to collect data on their customers’ preferences and behaviors, which they could use to personalize their marketing efforts.

The Use of AI and Machine Learning

Today, some QSRs are using AI and machine learning to improve their drive-thru operations. For example, they may use AI-powered cameras to analyze traffic patterns and predict when customers are likely to arrive. They may also use machine learning algorithms to optimize their menu layouts, pricing strategies, and marketing efforts.


In conclusion, the drive-thru solution has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the 1940s. Today, drive-thru restaurants are using advanced technologies and innovative designs to provide customers with fast, convenient, and personalized service. As customer preferences and behaviors continue to evolve, we can expect drive-thru solutions to continue to adapt and improve to meet their needs.